My Time in Marrakech, My Thoughts on Traveling & My Disputing the Binary Recognition
Last fall break, my boyfriend, Nicolas, and I went to Marrakech, Morocco. Neither of us had been before and were extremely excited to see what had been said to be a magical land. I'm not usually one for researching before I travel but the excitement I had for this trip had me online day and night. I wanted to get the most out of my week there; I wanted to be able to say, "I've seen all of Marrakech." I think, ultimately, I was able to do that. However, all of the things that I look back on with regards to "experiencing" an authentic Marrakech have something in common. None of the stand-out, cultural exposures of my trip came from things I had searched for online, instead they all came from the backroads I explored and the "behind-the-scenes" people I spoke to.
In Marrakech, I stayed in the Medina, which is the part of Marrakech surrounded by walls known as the "old city". I stayed in a small hotel that was right next to the biggest mosque in the city. I wouldn't say the area was swarming with tourists, but I definitely was not the only outsider walking around that area. Nicolas and I would walk into the big market-place area within the Medina and were again, exposed to many visitors. Granted the market is based around the idea of selling to tourists nowadays but it didn't seem like the "real" Marrakech.
One day we decided to take a walk around the city and to end up in the old Jewish part of the Medina. We had heard about it through a friend and thought it was such an oxymoron if you will because, obviously, Marrakech is and has been for a long time, a Muslim city. We were next to the palace, a manifestation of an idea we were very interested in (because everyone there is really in love with their King and that seems so different to many other countries relationship with their "leaders") and we could tell we were not exactly headed in the right direction. A very kind man came up to us and warned us we were about to leave the city and that there wasn't anything we would want to see outside of the area we were in. He then asked us where we were headed and offered to take us there. We smiled and said, "no thank you", because in Marrakech people will try to guide you and then will essentially demand you to pay them for their services all the while saying, "no money, no honey". He insisted he wouldn't charge us, we were lost and so we agreed to follow him.
He took us through these back roads, the "back region" of the tourist establishment that is Marrakech. He literally took us through what we were to find out was the poorest area of the city and that was visually very evident. We got to see children playing with each other, mothers making food outside of their homes and men walking too and from work. Granted, these are things that happen on a daily basis but here it seemed magical. The people who lived here seemed to be living in another world. Of course, people always go on holidays to places like India or Japan and come back gawking with expressions regarding how life changing their trips were. However, I feel like this experience- being in the old synagogue, tromping around the backstreets away from the resorts and within the city walls- allowed me to see myself completely entrenched into another universe.
MacCanell expresses this idea that original tours around the world were purposed for religious pilgrimages. I don't necessarily think that this is something that has gone away. Granted, people travel to "explore" and to see new ways of life (even if it's to buy foreign goods and eat foreign foods), however I would argue that in a sense these reasons for traveling culminate to a modern personally "religious" experience. The very act of wanting to relocate one's self expresses a very similar desire to wanting to go on a religious pilgrimage.
Perhaps the notion of a modern day religious pilgrimage is the very act of traveling. It's allowing yourself to get lost, or even to follow a guide step-by-step, and get out of your norm. Granted, these things, traditionally and comparatively, are very different. However, in regards to the purposes travel and religious pilgrimage serve, I wouldn't say they're too different.
Finally, the idea about "what is authentic" really is what comes into play regarding traveling. I think the more people want to experience other cultures, the more natives/locals are going to try to exploit it. So this leaves us with an unsolvable (at least to me) challenge: If we want people to be exposed to other cultures and other places to eliminate differences, how are we to deal with keping these sought after destinations authentic?
I've included a link here to Marrakech's "trip advisor" just so you can see how the tourism has really taken over the city: